Defending Communities From Destruction Cultural Studies Essay

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The term advocacy planning was coined by Paul Davidoff in his famous 1965 article and is today required reading in planning schools throughout the nation. But to many students today, advocacy planning is a quaint and outdated notion, a product of the bygone civil rights era. We acknowledge Davidoff's critique of mainstream physical planning and its neglect of minorities and the poor, then move on to our work. The more neutral concept of "community planning" has supplanted advocacy planning. Community planning is the new mainstream approach that frequently submerges the progressive elements that emerged under the rubric of advocacy planning.

But advocacy planning is still the foundation for all progressive planning today. It is relevant because it allows us to distinguish between progressive community planning and the generic community planning. If we go back over Davidoff's ideas, we'll see how they have profound implications for planning practice today and far-reaching implications for the future.

Defending Communities from Destruction The condition for advocacy is the struggle to defend communities from destruction by orthodox urban renewal schemes. Such struggles set the stage for the long career in politics and planning of Boston's Mel King, who noted how "…somebody else defined my community in a way that allowed them to justify destruction of it." King's advocacy was based on firsthand knowledge of the rich and contradictory human environment and social relations that are the essence of community. These relations, not land, are what our neighborhoods and cities are all about.

While its philosophical roots can be traced to the Enlightenment and liberal economic theory, advocacy planning was an innovation of the 1960s, a direct consequence of the engagement of urban planners in the civil rights movement, the struggles against the displacement of low-income communities by the federal urban renewal program. It also stemmed from and fed the opportunities for innovation offered by the federal War on Poverty, including the Model Cities Program. The theory of advocacy planning arose not simply from Paul Davidoff's mind but from the multiple practices by community activists and professionals to redress issues of racial and class oppression. It confronted a planning profession that focused narrowly on the physical city, rationalized the destruction of "slums" by urban renewal and sided with powerful real estate interests, and that was overwhelmingly a club of white males who claimed for themselves a position of technocratic superiority over protesting communities. While advocacy planning was a prescription meant for urban planners, the theory applies to all professions and disciplines that confront the political and ethical dilemmas bound up in their practices-social work, public health, public administration and all of the social sciences that deal with urban policy.

Paul Davidoff's "Advocacy and Pluralism in Planning" appeared in the Journal of the American Institute of Planners in 1965. Its main points were: The planner isn't solely a value-neutral technician; instead, values are part of every planning process, City planners shouldn't attempt to frame a single plan that represents the "public interest" but rather represent and plead the plans of many interest groups." In other words, planning should be pluralistic and represent, especially minority o interests. Diverse interests so-called "citizen participation" programs usually react to official plans and programs instead of encouraging people to propose their own goals, policies and future actions. Neighborhood groups and ad hoc associations brought together to protest public actions should rightly do their own plans.

Planning commissions set up as supposedly neutral bodies acting in the public interest are responsible to no constituency and too often irrelevant. There is no escaping the reality that politics is at the very heart of planning and that planning commissions are political.

Urban planning is fixated on the physical city: "The city planning profession's historical concern with the physical environment has warped its ability to see physical structures and land as servants to those who use them." Davidoff said that professionals should be concerned with physical, economic and social planning. In a line that was relevant to the founding of the Hunter College urban planning program, he said: "The practice of plural planning requires educating planners who would be able to engage as professional advocates in the contentious work of forming social policy."

Davidoff's theory was matched by his practice. He founded the Suburban Action Institute, which challenged exclusionary zoning in the suburbs. He was a member of Planners for Equal Opportunity (PEO), the first national organization of advocacy planners.

Paul's legacy lives on in Planners Network, the successor organization to PEO that started in 1975, and its magazine, Progressive Planning.

2.0 Advocacy and Community-Based Planning in New York City

Advocacy planning has strong roots in New York City, as this was one of the most hotly contested urban battlegrounds for civil rights and against displacement. Davidoff refers in his 1965 article to The Alternate Plan for Cooper Square, which was completed in 1961 in direct response and opposition to the Robert Moses proposal to wipe out eleven blocks in the Lower East Side. The Cooper Square plan was guided by Walter Thabit, founder and leader of PEO who passed away last year. It was the first community-based plan in the city, took forty-five years to implement and resulted in a phenomenal redevelopment of the 11-block area with an unprecedented 60 percent of all housing units for low-income households. Cooper Square also founded the first community land trust in the city.

In 2001, a group of us launched the Campaign for Community-Based Planning, which advocates for all of the things Davidoff called for. Today there are over seventy community plans in the city, many of which were produced by advocates, not "value-neutral" technicians. Many of the plans were led by folks like Yolanda Garcia of the Bronx, a woman who never had any professional training. Many of the plans evolved out of protests against official plans that were supposedly in the "public interest" and introduced social and economic issues into the heart of the planning process when the official plans ignored them. For the most part the community plans are inclusive and respect a plurality of interests (though not always). This flurry of community-based planning, which has outdone the city's official planning body, is living proof that the planning commission is irrelevant. What remains to be done is to legitimize this pluralistic planning, a task which our campaign is now undertaking.

3.0 After the 1960s

Advocacy planning doesn't have to be a fossilized concept from the 1960s. Though the civil rights movement has ebbed, black-white divisions are complicated by a new array of ethnic divisions and identities. During the Nixon years the War on Poverty was subverted and during the Reagan years Reagan unleashed a counter-revolution that undermined critical public policy instruments for achieving racial equality and equal economic opportunity. Under Reagan, affirmative action became reverse discrimination, poor people were blamed for poverty and public assistance was cut back-even as tax cuts and subsidies continued to flow to the rich. With the collapse of the socialist camp, neoliberalism became religion and Margaret Thatcher's brag that "There is no alternative" was internalized by many, including activists and professionals. And perpetual foreign wars, now an indefinite war against "terrorism," have long been diverting resources needed to solve solvable urban problems.

But throughout the U.S. and world, new social movements have arisen since the 1970s. These movements, with both their practices and new theories, have proven that "Another World Is Possible," to use the phrase of the World Social Forum.

In the U.S., many progressive professional planners went to work in public agencies and became quiet advocates from within. Norman Krumholz popularized the term equity planning based on his own practice as planning director under Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes, the first African-American mayor of a major U.S. city. Feminism had a profound impact on planning by uncovering the many and diverse practices of women that have shaped cities and neighborhoods. Leonie Sandercock's Making the Invisible Visible is but one expression of this, and it was a woman, Jane Jacobs, who produced the classic critique of physical planning, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The environmental movement also brought forth many advocates of radical change, but more on that later.

These and other developments have produced what today we call "progressive planning." In my view, this is more than just the sum of all of these theories and practices. An indispensable part of progressive planning today is the focus that advocacy planning started with-opposition to the conditions that produce and reproduce the inequalities of race and class. Without that, advocacy would be just a conservative appeal for pluralism-everybody do their own thing and don't challenge existing relations of economic and political power. Sit in your "value-neutral" cocoon and watch the world go by.

It is no coincidence that one of the new, invigorating sources of progressive planning around the country and in New York City is the environmental justice movement. It is no coincidence because environmental justice brings together once again a concern for the physical environment with a commitment to social justice. There would be no environmental justice movement if the traditional environmental organizations had incorporated social justice into their missions, just as there would be no progressive planning movement if the establishment organizations truly became advocates for social justice. Like planners, the mainstream environmental groups deal with environmental issues as strictly in "the public interest."

The latest generation of community plans in New York came out of environmental justice campaigns, including plans for: Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Red Hook and Sunset Park, all in Brooklyn; the deconstruction of the Sheridan Expressway; the Bronx waterfront; West Harlem's waterfront; and citywide waste management by the Organization of Waterfront Neighborhoods. Planning for environmental justice reunites the latest generation of physical community planning and social justice.

Another set of community plans are bringing us back to the place the Cooper Square plan started-the struggle against urban renewal powers that favor upscale development over community preservation and development. The Melrose Commons plan in the Bronx is one of the best known, but there is also the West Harlem Plan, an alternative to Columbia University's land grab, and the UNITY Plan, a community-based alternative to Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn. These struggles against displacement and destruction of communities, embodied in these plans, are giving rise to a whole new generation of advocacy planners.

In conclusion, there are strong connections between advocacy planning yesterday and today. I've emphasized the connections and not the disconnections-the latter of which there are many. It is easy to overlook the profound historic changes that have taken place in the political world, the changing nature of cities, the limitations of the advocacy framework and the need to reframe and redefine advocacy. But there are some sobering facts that suggest that the agenda of advocacy planning and the civil rights movement from the 1960s has yet to be fulfilled. Today the proportion of people of color in the planning profession is still inadequate, and it is shocking that the proportion of African Americans in graduate urban planning programs hasn't changed substantially and is still less than 3 percent nationwide. This suggests that advocacy will continue to come from outside the profession, even if everyone in the profession has to read Davidoff's landmark essay to get a degree. In advocacy planning, this is a participation method which originated in the USA, an "advocate" (not in the legal sense; usually a planner) gives ordinary citizens expert advice in planning matters, assists them and represents them before official bodies at communal and state level.

Advocacy planning is Suitable for underpinning the interests of segments of the population in planning processes where the former have difficulty in expressing themselves, are socially disadvantaged or are simply not organized, for ensuring that all segments of the population affected by a planning process are taken into account even-handedly and for mediating between the everyday world of ordinary citizens and the perspective of experts

4.0 Sequence of events

In advocacy planning there is no set sequence of events. An advocacy planner's main activities are informing ordinary citizens about planning issues, working out suggestions together with ordinary citizens, representing the latter before official bodies such as the city administration, promoting and chairing discussion processes, and so on.

Advocacy planning is mostly employed at local or regional level. Usually the advocacy planners are available throughout; examples of this are the local advice bureaus and the youth and environmental ombudsmen in Vienna.


Ordinary citizens, advocacy planners

Point to note

Advocacy planning should not lead to ordinary citizens being pushed into passive roles or treated like children; instead, it should help them to stand up for their own interests and should make it easier to compensate for possible discrimination.

5.0 Collaboration: Advantages and disadvantages

In advocacy, collaboration is key. In one way or another, just about every help sheet in Our Community's Advocacy Centre has had something to do with collaboration.

Establishing a collaboration not only strengthens your campaign, you're also demonstrating to the community, decision-makers and funders that other stakeholders recognise that there's a need for what you're doing. This can be a powerful asset.

In this helpsheet we take you through some of the advantages and disadvantages of collaborating with other organisations.

5.1 Advantages

The advantages of collaboration are many:

In a healthy collaboration there's something in it for both parties, whether it's access to skills and resources or just working towards a common aim

You'll have a broader reach, as all the organisations involved in the collaboration will have different networks and mailing lists to spread the word on - which means that more sectors of the community will hear about your campaign

You'll gain access to new skills as the various organisations that have these skill sets come on board

It's a good opportunity to widen your own networks

If more organizations are involved you'll increase your own credibility

More and more funding bodies like to see collaborations, so this will certainly work in your favor in grant applications - not to mention the fact that a wide range of costs for the campaign could then be shared

The other organizations will be able to provide you with in-kind resources

These sorts of collaborations tend to lead to ongoing relationships, which will help you with future campaigns

5.2 Disadvantages

Collaborations are generally a good idea, for all the reasons mentioned above. However, there are some circumstances where you at least need to be careful and to put safeguards in place to overcome a few potential problems.

Collaborations can mean that your campaign moves more slowly, because you need to get consensus or check with the other players regarding every decision - so make sure you have a good understanding of the levels of autonomy that you have.

You'll be more restricted in what you can do. Certain tactics your group might follow, or positions that your group might ordinarily take, may not be agreed on by other members of your collaboration.

In-fighting between parties may emerge, and few things could be more damaging to a cause. These squabbles often become public, but even if they don't people in the organization often finish up acting according to their own micro political agendas rather than on the basis of what's good for the campaign.

6.0 "Advocacy and Pluralism in Planning"

Paul Davidoff, 1965

Argument is based around three main ideas that Davidoff considers outdated and ineffective aspects of planning: 1) unitary planning, 2) the traditional planning commission, and 3) too much focus on physical aspects of urban areas

Author argues against these aspects, and offers an alternative to each problem: 1) pluralism in planning 2) a true democratic process of planning, and 3)a more inclusionary view of the scope of planning field

General sense that controversy, tension, opposing viewpoints are natural and healthy to the planning process. These tensions should not be avoided; rather they are a means for true democratic decision-making.

Unitary vs. Plural Planning

Unitary Plan - one agency prepares a comprehensive plan with little or no outside input, and without researching viable alternatives

Plural Plan - Exploring and discussing multiple options for each proposed plan, hearing from different interest groups, giving all groups a voice whether they have had traditional 'power' within a community or not.

Davidoff's encouragement of tension and contentious discussion is critical to plural planning.

Three benefits to utilizing plural planning as opposed to unitary planning:

It better informs the public of alternative choices

Forces public agency to compete with other organizations preparing plans, thereby increasing the quality of the work generated by the public sector

Gives outside organizations a chance to take their work to the next level - not just protesting government's plans, but creating their own alternatives.

Planner as Advocate (brings this point up in the middle of his 3 arguments against traditional planning)

After stating that the correct process for planning is pluralism, Davidoff argues that the correct role of the planner is one of an advocate.

Social values and justice must be integrated into planning. Planning can no longer be just a technical field; the act of recommending plans and actions to the city is in itself infusing technical worker with ideas of social and economic justices. This shouldn't be fought or discouraged.

Compares the role of advocacy planning to that of a lawyer. Each group/idea is entitled to fair representation and deserves a voice. Takes this comparison a step further and suggests that an advocacy plan would be similar to a legal brief, in that it not only argues for its own ideas, but argues against the alternative plans created by other agencies

Beneficial to community as under-represented groups (such as low-income residents) will have a professional to speak for them; also beneficial to planners as they can select to work with organizations/firms that hold values and interests similar to their own.

7.0The public planning agency vs. democratic planning process

7.1Three groups should be involved with a democratic, public planning process:

7.1.1 Political parties. Ideal situation would be if both parties in the legislative and executive branches would form their own plans, these plans would be discussed and appraised, and the planning agency would carry out its activities based on constituent demands. However, Davidoff admits this is a lofty ideal that would be difficult to realize.

7.1.2 Special interest groups. Chambers of commerce, labor-rights organizations, civil rights, environmental issues. Again, Davidoff mentions this is also difficult, as many organizations are reluctant to disagree with city plans, as it decreasing their ability for funding, support

Ad-hoc protest organizations. Eg., neighborhood associations developing alternative plans that better suit their community.

Antithesis of the democratic process he describes is the public planning agency

Originated in the conservative reform movement in the early 1900s.

Main problem is that they have no true constituency. Not that connected to the public, and commission members are quick to come to a group consensus rather than discuss individual opinions, disagreements. Therefore, when the public has complaints about activities in their neighborhood, they don't know who specifically to speak with

8.0 Inclusive Definition of the Scope of Planning

Davidoff's third element that he argues should be changed is the focus on only physical space of a community.

The purpose of buildings is to serve people. Their functional use is of primary concern. Spaces and structures only take on true meaning when examining them in relation to social and economic conditions.

Example - Urban renewal…article written during a time when government practiced 'physical determinism'…argued that if the buildings were changed, the social problems would change accordingly. Obviously, Davidoff contends that this thinking should be reversed.

Three ways that planning's scope can be broadened to include more that physical aspects:

State legislation needed to allow municipal planning departments to address issues outside of land use. Should address all areas of public concern

Planning education should allow students to specialize in specific areas of public planning (not necessarily physical planning)

APA should widen its scope and purpose. Current mission statement excludes those planners not focused narrowly on physical planning

9.0 Planning Education and Conclusions

Planners should be knowledgeable in a wide spectrum of issues (on social, economic, systematic, physical levels) affecting urban areas.

Planners should serve as coordinators and liaisons

Merge the advances in technical skills and resources with the analytic practice of forming social policy. This allows planners to address urban planning on many levels - design, social work, law. Problems planners face are both pragmatic and philosophical, and it's not an either/or decision…all angles must be discussed and fought over in order for meaningful decisions to be made.